Residents on two housing estates where blocks of flats burned down have been left at risk because of fire stopping measures in buildings being “missing or useless”, the BBC has been told.
A block built in Worcester Park in south-west London by the Berkley Group burned down in September.
The BBC has found apparent flaws in two more Berkley Group buildings it is said would allow fire to spread quickly.
The developer said all properties had been “independently signed off”.
Since September’s blaze, the housing association for The Hamptons estate has temporarily changed its “stay put” evacuation policy following advice from London Fire Brigade.
Former resident Stephen Nobrega told the BBC the way the fire spread “was more or less instant. It was like paper”.
Wood is combustible and so fire stopping in timber frame homes is important to prevent the spread of fire.
“You would expect that the materials would contain a fire for a considerable amount of time, but it just didn’t happen,” Mr Nobrega said.
Although there were no injuries, some residents believed they just about escaped in time.
‘Shoddily thrown together’
A number of families lost their homes in the fire while others on the estate said they were concerned their own homes were not safe.
The development has since been on high alert, with security guards patrolling 24 hours-a-day on the lookout for fire.
Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH), the housing association that now manages properties in the Hamptons, said it had “fitted smoke alarms in the electrical cupboards of all our blocks”.
“We are worried about how our homes are built and if they could go up, we want to be evacuated,” a resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.
A large fire would be able to spread quickly at another building on The Hamptons site, two independent surveyors have claimed.
Independent chartered surveyor and fire safety inspector, Arnold Tarling, found a large gap between the fire stopping and the cladding on the outside of a building in the estate, which he said would act as a “chimney through which a fire will spread”.
“What we have here is a form of fire stopping which just won’t do its job,” he said.
Greig Adams, a fire safety expert, told the BBC these breaches had “consequences, including a considerable increased risk to life in the event of a fire”.
“The provision of effective fire barriers is a mandatory requirement, not an element that can be shoddily thrown together or to cut corners on,” Mr Adams said.
A former home owner at the Worcester Park estate has told the BBC she contacted the Berkeley Group nine years ago over safety concerns.
Sheila Majid said she had an independent inspection of her property in 2010 that revealed similar problems with fire stopping and meant “our home did not meet basic fire safety requirements”.
She managed to sell her property back to the Berkeley Group, but remained concerned other Berkeley properties had similar problems.
Two years ago a fire at another Berkeley Group-built property on the Holborough Lakes Estate in Kent destroyed a block of flats.
Mr Tarling inspected a loft space at a property in the estate and found similar fire safety problems to those at the Worcester Park estate.
“There needs to be a full investigation of these properties, not only by the contractor but by the authorities,” he said.
A spokesman for the Berkley Group said “all properties were independently signed off as building control compliant”.
Speaking about the Hamptons fire he said “the police and the fire brigade are still investigating the cause of the fire, which remains unknown” and the group was “making all necessary checks to reassure residents”.
A National House Building Council spokesperson said it was the approved inspector for the Worcester Park development and the organisation had “carried out periodic inspections at key stages of a development’s construction”.
However, they added that “the primary responsibility for achieving compliance with the regulations rests with the builder”.
Housing association MTVH said it had since commissioned surveys of all the buildings it owned and managed.
Geeta Nanda, chief executive of MTVH, said: “It’s our absolute priority to ensure we provide residents with the support and help they need at this difficult time, and making sure that the homes throughout The Hamptons are safe.”
London-based developer Berkley Group has built 19,500 homes in the past five years across the south of England and the Midlands.
A cliff lift, a railway viaduct and a pair of lighthouses have been added to a list of sites at risk of being lost.
Historic England has added 247 sites to its At Risk Register but 310 have been removed as they were regarded as saved.
The 134-year-old Leas Lift in Folkestone, England’s oldest surviving timber trestle railway bridge in Maldon and both Dovercourt Lighthouses in Harwich are on the list.
A well in London, a lead mine and a Georgian warship have been removed.
Historic England praised those who had “lovingly cared for” and “brought back to life” empty buildings and “valued historic places”.
Chief executive Duncan Wilson said: “The message is clear – our heritage needs to be saved and investing in heritage pays.
“There are buildings still on the register that can be rescued and can be brought back to beneficial use and generate an income, contributing to the local community and economy.”
Sites considered saved in the past year included:
- Congregational Chapel in Roxton, Bedfordshire
- Physic Well in Barnet, north London
- Church of St Bride in Fleet Street, central London
- Moseley School of Art in Birmingham
- Potternewton Mansion in Leeds
- HMS Invincible, the wreck of an 18th Century navy ship, off Horse and Dean Sand in The Solent
- Former Providence Chapel in Charlwood, Surrey
- Carrshield lead mines and ore works, North Pennines
- St Andrew’s Church in Sunderland
- Hooton Hangars, RAF hangars in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire
2,375Grade I and II* listed buildings and places of worship
102 Parks and gardens
6Battlefields and wreck sites
Source: Historic England
New sites at risk included:
The Dovercourt lighthouses and causeway, Harwich
Believed to be unique examples of 19th century prefabricated lighthouses, the two towers off the Essex coast are a “well-regarded” feature of the deep water harbour but they are deteriorating.
A survey was carried out in 2018 with a view to repair work commencing over the next two years.
Wickham Bishops railway viaduct, Maldon
The oldest surviving timber trestle railway bridge in England, the structure at Wickham Bishops, also in Essex, comprises two adjoining viaducts and was part of the Braintree to Maldon branch line between 1848 and 1966.
Despite extensive repairs in the 1990s, many timbers are suffering from rot and decay caused by damp, lack of maintenance and heavy tree growth.
Leas Lift, Folkestone
The Grade II* listed funicular railway in Kent was built in 1885 and is one of only three remaining water-balanced lifts in the UK.
It closed in January 2017 because of safety issues with the braking system, since when the building, tracks and machinery have degraded further.
A trust has been formed to manage the building with the hope of reopening the lift in 2023.
Former Weedon Barracks, Weedon Bec
The military complex was constructed as a major depot for arms and ammunition during the Napoleonic Wars and included barracks and a military prison.
It would have served as a refuge for the king and government if Napoleon had invaded and remained a main supplier of arms and clothing to the British Army until the 1960s.
Part of the site in Northamptonshire has been refurbished and Historic England has funded a survey to see what can be done with the rest.
Beckford’s Tower, Bath
This “much-loved landmark” was built in 1827 for writer William Beckford to house his collection of art, books and furniture.
He was buried at the tower and the surrounding Lansdown Cemetery has also been put on the register because of the poor condition of some of its main features.
The Bath Preservation Trust acquired the tower in 1993 and carried out extensive repairs, opening the building to the public in 2001. It is now preparing for another phase of major repairs, which is dependent on fundraising.
Grand Quarter, Leeds
This area was the first to be developed beyond Leeds’ medieval boundaries in the 1600s and was transformed by cloth merchant John Harrison, who also funded the construction of St John’s Church, the oldest church in the city centre, in 1630.
Buildings from each following century remain today, including the Victorian Grand Theatre, but heavy traffic, empty shops and loss of architectural details have left it looking “down at heel”, Historic England said.
The Grand Quarter has recently been chosen as a High Street Heritage Action Zone with Historic England funding due to help revive and improve the area’s “special character”.